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White Christian Nationalists Can Accrue Power in Any Administration
and a note on the use of "Christian nationalism"
I haven’t been able to cover news-related items in my newsletter for most of the year for personal reasons I’ve alluded to time and again. But the recent election of Mike Johnson to House Speaker should not pass without comment.
Prior to October 25th, the date he was elected Speaker, Mike Johnson was a little-known representative of Louisiana. Since then, the spotlight on his background has intensified, and it is quite clear that he is a dedicated Christian nationalist formed by white evangelical belief and practice.
There have already been very good rundowns of Mike Johnson’s evangelical pedigree, and I will link to several below.1 However, there are two related points that I want to add to the conversation.
Christian nationalism can accrue power in any administration
First, I want to highlight that Mike Johnson came to power during a Democratic presidency, given that the House is currently controlled by the Republican party. This is obvious. But what somehow feels lost or forgotten is that, for literally as long as I can remember, the Republican party’s primary form of power has been leveraging the weak points of our tenuous system of checks and balances to their advantage.
From Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution forward, the GOP has largely been a party of opposition, even when they held power during the Bush and Trump administrations. The Religious Right has been a ready and willing ally in efforts to overturn elections, stack the judicial system, and deny women bodily autonomy, among other things, all while providing a Christian rationalization for it all.
The groups we now collectively call “Christian nationalist” are very effective at leveraging those weak points. They are well-funded and well-organized. Groups like the Council for National Policy, ALEC, Alliance Defending Freedom, United in Purpose, and many others, are able to work on long timetables in order to achieve their goals.
Now we see “one of their own” ascending to second in line to replace the President, because the only other viable candidates were a known white supremacist and a man who did nothing when he knew of abuse and did nothing to pass bills to boot.
And it is troubling that the GOP has no defense against the ascent of one particular type of Republican, as it reduces its appeal further and further.
On the use of “Christian nationalism”
I am largely glad that “Christian nationalism” has entered our political lexicon and that it has become shorthand for a particular Christian outlook and its impact on our politics. One thing that I remain reticent about, however, is how the term provides rhetorical distance for white evangelical institutions and practices.
“Christian nationalism” is an abstraction that would benefit from a metaphor. I propose “virus.”
Viruses spread. They are biological and technological. They are not strictly living, but they use living things.
A term like “Christian nationalism” is valuable in the abstract when someone is discussing its interdenominational and international qualities—such as how it can be present in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox communities, or how elite Christian nationalists in various countries network across borders to share strategies and align goals.
But when we talk about domestic politics in the United States, in this day and age we should be able to name the religious tradition that someone is a part of and not hedge our words.
If Christian nationalism is a virus, in America, white evangelicalism is its most common host.
We should be able to say so.
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News Rundowns & Commentary on Speaker Johnson
There have been many meaningful rundowns of Johnson’s evangelical pedigree.draws attention to the fact that he has praised David Barton, and called himself a “Bible-believing Christian” in an interview with Hannity—insider language that signals to other evangelicals just what type of Christian he is.
The rest of the post is here:
Other good takes can be found here from, , & :
Sarah Posner on Speaker Johnson, ADF, and Powers & Principalities
Sarah Posner’s coverage of the Religious Right is essential reading; in light of Speaker Johnson’s election, she highlighted her 2007 article about Alliance Defending Freedom where Johnson previously worked.
She also wrote an op-ed for MSNBC: Mike Johnson’s Christian nationalist track record isn’t a mystery — it’s a tragedy.
Finally, I spoke with Posner about her book Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump in my 2020 limited series podcast, Powers & Principalities:
Please also note the additional highlight of Sarah Posner’s work; Posner is one of the most persistent critics of the Religious Right, who covered his prior involvement at Alliance Defending Freedom in 2017. She is now active on Bluesky.